Uttoxeter, 12/2/17

The meeting passed an early morning inspection, then the weather turned and it had to survive three more checks up until noon. Upon arrival, the snow seemed to have oddly unleashed itself on the racecourse, but not the low hills that guide the back straight. The end result was extremely testing conditions, enough to catch out some horses that normally do reasonably well on heavy ground. On that basis it is a day where being forgiving of failure may pay off when the competitors are seen in more normal circumstances. Especially in the novice hurdles.One supporting reason for this is that there were plenty of struggling horses who were eased from a long way out when beaten - why worry about losing by seventy lengths rather than fifty? The one exception produced a win from an apaprently hopeless position, but for the most part common sense was applied.

Point of order. Race four was listed as a qualifier for the Northern Staying Hurdle Series Final. This series, including other types of race, was designed to help the northern horses towards some decent prizes in the final. By staging qualifiers at a course that is completely, utterly undeniably in the Midlands, surely that just helps the southern yards get horses qualified to go up to Newcastle for the big money? The four horses that ran were trained in Berkshsire, Wiltshire, Suffolk and Shropshire. Not terribly northern.

Going: Heavy - very.

Race 1: Connor's 21st Birthday Celebration Novices' Handicap Hurdle [2m 4f]

1: Modulus     2: Airpur Desbois     3: Man In Black

Winner owned & trained: Peter Winks, ridden: Ryan Winks

This outcome set the stall out for the way the rest of the afternoon would unfold.Very recent form was often unimportant to predicting today's outcomes, and huge advantages could snap in or out before the blink of an eye. Modulus made a couple of mistakes in this race that were potentially disastrous to his chance, yet he popped up in contention two from the finish and although taking off upsides Airpur Desbois at the final hurdle, he was clear and in command twenty yards later. The runner-up and Man In Black were just too tired to do more than clamber over the hurdle and take the run-in at walking pace. Fortunately the smattering of opponents still going were a) well behind and b) not going any better. Man In Black almost did enough to get a thumbs up, but his handicap performances, even if allowing for an extended absence in the middle of them, had been such massive losses, that he is the one who is stamping a great big "jQuery172049242278756816515_1491336238078" on the form. In that same red, bold font.

+   Modulus (1st): Had never tried soft ground before, never mind heavy, and the signals here are broadcasting the idea that it is worth trying again, because he seemed to relish it - at least in comparison to the others.
+   Airpur Desbois (2nd): Once slightly encouraging in bumpers and hurdles, he had pulled up in three of his last four, so this was a positive, despite struggling to finish the race and losing quite comfortably. This was his first run for a new yard (Oliver Greenall) and first in a tongue tie, so there are factors to explain why he perked up and why it may be sustained.
x   Samdibien (PU): Fell when in the lead two out on his handicap debut and had been unfairly raised four pounds for it - how can anyone be convinced what may have happened with more than a quarter of a mile to race, and handicapping is supposed to be statistically based. It may have been the ground, but it could be bad memories of his last race, as he looked unhappy for much of this and was adrift when pulled up at hurdle seven.
x   Act Four (6th): Could be seen with a chance on his older form, but all four runs this season had been heavy defeats, averaging 36 lengths. His handicap rating should be doddle for the galloping ability shown in bumpers, but this race was no improvement at all.

UK-Jumping Selection - Wazowski (5th): Got clobbered by the erratically jumping Friends Of Ama Gi at the third hurdle and ran patchily afterwards. It should be noted that is selection criteria included "undulating tracks not on heavy ground" and his recent ultra-close second on heavy at Hereford may not be the expansion of skills that it first appeared.
Unsurprisingly it was a struggle to get good picture settings in gloom and murk, but this one gets the benefit of the doubt as Modulus managed to get in clear view on the right. From that side, the line up reads Sambidien, Friends Of Ama Gi, Man In Black (absurdly a cheekpieced grey whose jockey wears red and yellow), Airpur Desbois (looking where he need not be looking), Wazowski, Act Four and Pension Madness.

Race 2: Bullock & Bosson Maiden Hurdle [2m]

1: Quids In     2: Putting Green     3: Broughtons Rhythm

Winner owned: Daresbury, MacEchern & Lee Baldwin, trained: Oliver Greenall, ridden: Jake Greenall

A similar unfolding to race one, with Quids In leading but not yet in command, and then sauntering clear after getting over the hurdle, with Putting Green soon having to accept that second will do. In these conditions, his ten pound age allowance, assuming that he was mature enough to not need it all, was a huge edge to have, but at level weights he probably would have just won less easily. The first three finishers all had handicap marks already, and there were only three pounds between the highest and lowest. The official finishing margins were thirteen and twelve lengths. Broughtons Rhythm survived the going to be third, but did not exceed what we knew he could do. In contrast, by leading to three out and retaining fourth place, albeit well beaten, Lickpenny Larry took a small stride in the right direction.

+   Quids In (1st): Likes this ground and appears to be a sound investment with a future. In the short term he may be dependent on how the handicapper interprets this. In the longer perspective, he has chasing potential.
+   Putting Green (2nd): Has put up a couple of improved shows this winter, and split them with another disappointment. He looks like just the horse to win when Venetia Williams has got him on a workable handicap mark. His presence in a maiden hurdle here suggests that she does not believe 117 to be it.
+   Sound The Bugle (5th): Seemed fine in the prelims until paddock congestion caused him to need to stand still. After that he was a completely irritated nightmare, including when being mounted. Once in the race he showed some ability until running out of steam three hurdles from the finish. There is more raw talent there than he has taken all the way to the finish, so all that is needed is to sort out his brain.

Race 3: E Sidwell - Wholesale Fruit And Veg Handicap Chase [3m]

1: Lunar Flow     2: Whiskey Chaser     3: Sonoftheking

Winner owned: L G Partnership, trained: Jamie Snowden, ridden: Richie McLernon

Lunar Flow won this by 37 lengths. The second placed horse, Whiskey Chaser, loves these conditions, although his recent efforts had admittedly been lacking that warm glow in the stomach that his namesake may bring. And the third, Sonoftheking, has avoided heavy going in the past. So whilst there was not any aspect of fluke in the win, it is possible that the victory did not need as monstrous effort as the margin implies. The handicapper of staying chasers can no doubt expect a call from connections shortly, peddling exactly the same argument. The volatile nature of the conditions is shown by the fact that Lunar Flow was 38 lengths BEHIND Sonoftheking in his most recent race.

+ +   Whiskey Chaser (2nd): Has edged into his best form in February and March in each of the past two years. This was not the same again, but it was better than recent efforts, and could well be the prompt for a short spell of excellent form.
+   Winged Crusader (PU): One of three co-favourites, he was an odd horse to be there in the betting, as although he has one win on heavy-but-not-this-bad ground, with soft or good to soft a better fit. He hated the going, but pulled up after a lap and did not tire himself out in vain. When lugging 11 stone 6 pounds or more, his record is now 111P1PP12P.
x   Loughalder (4th): Has been an absolute whizz on easy tracks in the past and does act on heavy, but recently the drive and dependability has been absent, and it was the same story here, as fourth involved a hefty loss. One to avoid until he is visibly getting his mojo back.

UK-Jumping Selection - Cailleach Annie (5th): Started as co-favourite, but did not have one of her better days here, and even on better recent days she has not been winning. Taking a serious look at mares only races would be a sound plan.
This picture is also sub-standard, but where it can UK-Jumping aspires to be educational (don't hold your breath) and for any horses reading, fences are not supposed to be jumped in the style of Son Of Suzie - the grey over on the far side. The front rank is Lunar Flow - not in Lunatic Fowl mode - Whiskey Chaser, Sonoftheking, Big Georgie and Loughalder. So the first four were in the first half from fence one to the bitter end.

Race 4: Novices' Hurdle [2m 7.5f]

1: Lovenormoney     2: Mr Love     3: Goodgirltheresa

Winner owned: Tim Syder, trained: Warren Greatrex, ridden: Andrew Tinkler

Unsurprisingly, this was all run at a sedate pace, and it turned into a contest as to who was quickest home from the home turn. In fairness, Lovenormoney would do something that could be described as being the quickest, with the other three being sorted amongst who was least slow. After a solid Ascot hurdles debut, Lovenormoney has appeared to do less well at Chepstow, but the win here halted thoughts of him being one of those horses that goes instantly into regression mode. Also, it meant that a race that felt interminably long did actually end. One of those proverbial "timed on a calendar" things.

+ +   Mr Love (2nd): Fourth in an Irish point, he had been fourth, beaten 21 lengths on his hurdle debut, where his home work had not convinced connections to even try races short of three miles, just in case. He ran reasonably well again, and has the physique to come into his own as a chaser.
Another educational idea - run where the snow is not. Back To The Thatch (orange) leads, from Goodgirlteresa (left) and Lovenormoney (right). Mr Love sits at the back.

Race 5: ST14 Construction Mares' Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Poppy Kay     2: Daisy De Sivola     3: Lagavara

Winner owned: Aiden Murphy & Alan Peterson, trained: Philip Hobbs, ridden: Ciaran Gethings

Like the previous event, the pace seemed to be fairly cautious, and that again prevented the race having turned into a rout early in the home straight. Or it did in terms of distance, as Poppy Kay was always travelling more comfortably than the enemy, she was just allowed to wait until quite late to exert her authority. Having had a horrible flop on her handicap bow, pulling up behind Bobble Boru (fourth here), this was a turnaround in form of the type recommended by Lunar Flow. Her previous nemesis and runner-up Daisy De Sivola are both known to have an affinity for deep mud, so it was a creditable - and vastly improved - effort by Poppy Kay. It was only her fifth run ever, so it would be a shame if she had already peaked.

+   Lagavara (3rd): Had not tried heavy before, and did not seem to be well handicapped on 110 for her first race out of novice company. She did enough to imply that success will come, perhaps even without much of a weights drop, when the ground is less testing.
x   Bobble Boru (4th): Had a shambolically disappointing chase career that was surprising allowed to extend over fifteen races. A change of stable sorted her problems by simply going back to hurdles, and she has had a productive winter. A fair bit above her last winning mark, she was relying on conditions to make her competitive today. Under pressure before the turn for home, she was only shaken off at the last, and it looks as if she is in the handicapper's icy grasp at the moment.
x   Lucy MC (5th): Won a bad race when with Gordon Elliott, but has an awful lot of feeble performances in her scrapbook, and this was another, even when allowing for the conditions. She is not able to replicate that good day at the moment, even in terms of a creditable place.

Race 6: Martin & Sarah Celebration Handicap Chase [2m]

1: Rock On Rocky     2: Master Jake     3: Pembroke House

Winner owned: Jan Johnson & Terry Harman, trained: Matt Sheppard, ridden: Stan Sheppard

After two sedately run races, this was much more of the manic, for the conditions. The pace setter was Whispering Harry, who paid the price and dropped away quickly from the fourth last. That left Master Jake in the lead, and it appeared at the second from home that he had a commanding advantage. Even those who foresaw that he too had done too much too soon would not necessarily have chosen Rock On Rocky to be the one to take advantage. After being a bit iffy at the start, he had spent most of the race at the back, and lacked fluency at two or three fences. Walloping the sixth last ought to have killed off any hope he had, but Stan Sheppard was on 110% optimism and Rock On Rocky appreciated running back towards the stables. Still with plenty to catch up approaching the last, he got there with even a few metres to spare. Much of the work was done by Master Jake stopping, as the similarly vanquished Pembroke House rallied to be only four lengths off of second place. Inconsistent Starkie failed to land a blow in a race which could have suited him. It is probable that he wins a race in Britain at some point, but he will probably do it when, where and how we least expect it.

+ +   Eastview Boy (PU): Boasts a great record at Newcastle, 42112, although there is not much doing elsewhere, even on tracks that are normally easily handled for Newcastle specialists. Therefore he was easily opposed here and ran accordingly. Expect more back at his preferred location.
+   Master Jake (2nd): Lacked a little patience, well, a lot of patience, but of special note is his record on undulating tracks - 113132 - which would suggest that he can bounce back from the disappointment elsewhere.
x   Rock On Rocky (1st): Despite this splendid outcome, his truculence at the start is a cause for concern and he could kick punters in the goolies (metaphorically) at any time.
x   Pembroke House (3rd): Not a bad effort overall, but he has shown an uninspiring affinity for finishing second rather than first. This will have caused him some grief, but not as much as it ought to have done.

UK-Jumping Selection - Whispering Harry (PU): This ought to have been a perfect race for him, and he was back on his last winning mark. Recent runs have been well below his best, and adding a tongue tie did not fix it. Admittedly going too fast in front was not helpful, but it was a bad day all round.

Race 7: SSJ Electrical Handicap Hurdle [2m 4f]

1: Transient Bay     2: Big Meadow     3: Major Hindrance

Winner owned: The Waking Ned Partnership, trained: Philip Kirby, ridden: Tom Dowson

A dark and gloomy time of day, but as far as anything could in the conditions, the stand out horse here was Big Meadow, whose third place to Robinroyale had potentially been worth more than a handicap mark of 114. The problem was that his yard has just gone a bit quiet, and with defeat being by a length, that was feasibly the difference maker. Transient Bay was a 16/1 shot for this, which was not overly generous for a horse that had pulled up in his last three races, but back in days of better heart he had a course, distance and going win under his belt, although rated 32 pounds lower when doing it. He scrapped his way to success and gave the impression that had Big Meadow dug out a little more, then he too could have done. Major Hindrance does have a major hindrance - he gets beaten even when it would seem that conditions are just about right for him. Look at today, and last time, where the margins were almost identical. The fourth, Midnight Tune, was another to be in handicaps for the first time, so all credit to Transient Bay for dismissing three unknown quantities when apparently a bit high in the weights himself.

+ +   Big Meadow (2nd): Did not manage to win his handicap debut, but showed enough to imagine that he will do when his yard is in better form - and it was nine lengths back to the third.
+   Major Hindrance (3rd): Struggling to make a step forward in handicaps, perhaps chases will at some point be the answer.
+   Key To The West (6th): Had prior course form of 2221 and his four wins were on soft three times and heavy once. The crucial problem is that all successes had been in fields of six or fewer, and on today's evidence, that is something that he needs, although since his last win in late 2014, he has lost a few such races.Empire - Georgieshore (7th): Made the running, and then found that even in this gloop, horses in 0-120 races do quicken a bit when they want to, and he was swamped back to seventh. His one paced trundle began to eat into the margin late on, and with a few more metres to run, he would have recovered fifth. This is reminiscent of how his excellent bumper run here unfolded as well.
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